“It seems that everyone I have ever met,” wrote Gore Vidal in his memoir Palimpsest, “is now the subject of at least one biography.” Kensington Gore moves in rather more rarified circles than I do, but sometimes it seems that every other member of my (approximate) generation has written an autobiography, even down to Kris Needs and Mick Middles. Julie Burchill has, meanwhile, asserted that she is not surprised that so many of her ‘old flames’ have mentioned her in their autobiographies, since — obviously! — knowing her is the most interesting thing that could possibly ever have happened to them.
In Mick Farren’s case, having once had a brief affair with Burchill is possibly the 500th most interesting thing which has ever happened to him. Fortunately, the previous 499 are also included in this garrulous, witty and evocative account of his cultural, political and chemical misadventures as artist, activist, dandy and wastrel in London between 1964 and 1980. Oh dearie me, what a life: sporting the most impressive Afro hairdo ever seen on a male human of the caucasian persuasion — even including Bob Dylan, the late MC5 vocalist Rob Tyner, and your humble servant — throughout the eras of rocker, beatnik, hippie, punk and beyond.
Mick Farren wasn’t the kind of sweet peace-and-love-man hippie parodied by Nigel Planer in The Young Ones: he came on like a cross between Abbie Hoffman and Charles Manson and fooled not a few people, despite being essentially a pussycat. As well as fronting The Deviants — a rock band sufficiently ahead of their time to have attained punklike levels of raucous listener-unfriendliness during the Summer Of Love — Farren was, at various times, the doorman at the UFO Club, a leading member of the editorial collective of IT, Minister of Information for the UK branch of the White Panther Party, a principal defendant in the trial of the underground comic Nasty Tales (historically somewhat overshadowed by the OZ trial), co-promoter of the epically disastrous but hugely enjoyable Phun City rock festival (at which all the bands ended up playing for free except the group actually called Free), Germaine Greer’s lover and intellectual sparring partner, and a front-rank player in the mid-’70s NME’s attempt to deprave and corrupt the nation’s youth. Ironically enough, he and his posse of degenerates and subversives once lived in a flat above the Shaftesbury Theatre whilst Hair was playing. The court should also take into consideration 17 novels, 18 albums, three plays, two poetry anthologies, innumerable newspaper and magazine articles and seven previous book-length works of non-fiction, only two of the latter primarily concerned with Elvis Presley.
He could never quite make up his mind as to whether he wanted to be Lord Byron, Gene Vincent, Leon Trotsky, Bob Dylan, Dylan Thomas, William S Burroughs, or Harlan Ellison; though he would probably have settled for being the pre-bloat-and-flameout incarnation of Jim Morrison. In the end he had to settle for being Mick Farren. As this reviewer can testify from personal ’70s experience, Farren was (and, presumably, remains) as entertaining a companion as has ever walked the earth with whom to share industrial-strength refreshment and plot serious cultural mischief, and Give The Anarchist A Cigarette is as engaging, engrossing and charming a memoir as any produced thus far by my g-g-g-generation.
My favourite anecdote, from amongst many, recounts the occasion on which The Deviants went to do a solidarity gig during a sit-in at Essex University, only to find the Guevaras and Gramscis of radicalism’s Next Generation starving to death and piteously begging the visiting band for food. Since “true guerillas forage,” The Deviants broke into the refectory and distributed soup, cheese and ice cream to the students. “What sometimes troubles me,” Farren writes, “is that many of these wannabe world leaders, who couldn’t organise themselves a hot meal without the help of a bunch of hungry and bad-tempered rockers, are the backbone of New Labour.”